Home-grown players rule is “step in the right direction” say Timmermans and Bussemaker

European affairs minister Frans Timmermans and state secretary for sport Jet Bussemaker have welcomed the European Commission’s announcement that UEFA’s “ home-grown players” rule is compatible with EU rules on the free movement of workers.

The announcement was made yesterday by Commissioners Jan Figel (sport) and Vladimir Spidla (social affairs). “This is the kind of clarity we expect from the Commission, something which has been lacking to date,” said Mr Timmermans and Ms Bussemaker.

Last summer the European Commission was unwilling to go so far in its White Paper on Sport. It suggested that rules drawn up by sports associations could be periodically examined by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg for compatibility with European law. “That would create a great deal of legal uncertainty for associations and clubs,” said Mr Timmermans. “This was a point we wanted to press home, together with our French colleagues, in the memorandum on sport at the end of last year, in which we called on the Commission to clarify its position on the issue. The European Parliament was saying the same thing earlier this month and asked the Commission to adopt a clearer stance.”

This announcement is good news for UEFA, European football’s governing body. The system, which was introduced this year, can be further extended in the years ahead. “We are confident that this creates a framework in which European clubs can improve or in some cases reintroduce their schemes for training young players,” said Ms Bussemaker. “This would have a beneficial impact in that clubs would be reintegrated into the social fabric of the communities they serve.”

Mr Timmermans added that the home-grown players rule should not result in the most talented players being bought up by the bigger clubs at an even younger age. “The home-grown players rule is the first step, but we need extra measures to protect young players.”

The ministers noted the Commission’s strong rejection of FIFA’s proposed “ 6+5 rule” which would force clubs to field a minimum of six home nationals in their starting line-ups. According to Commission, such a rule would be incompatible with EC treaty provisions on the free movement of workers.

“We can understand the Commission’s desire to send a clear signal with a decision by FIFA in the offing,” said the ministers. “At the same time, the 6+5 rule does have its attractions. We don’t think the discussion is over just yet. European integration is a dynamic process and ideas can change over time.”